A renewed focus on community forestry




Almost one third of the world’s forest area is under some form of community-based forest management. Communities therefore play a pivotal role in forest rehabilitation and can derive a host of benefits from participating fully in the process.


How do we effectively incorporate community needs, rights and benefits into forest rehabilitation in the Asia-Pacific region?


This was the focus of a thematic session on the opening day of the APFNet Conference on Forest Rehabilitation in the Asia-Pacific Region, held in Beijing, China from 26-28 March 2018.



Session speakers and staff from the APFNet Secretariat



The session, facilitated by Professor Wil de Jong of Kyoto University, acknowledged that while local communities can provide important contributions and derive significant benefits from a much more prominent role in sustainable forest management, there are many challenges standing in their way.


In his presentation on combining traditional knowledge with scientific approaches in forest rehabilitation, Dr John Innes, Dean of the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia, emphasized that there are very few examples in the literature of forest rehabilitation and traditional knowledge together. Dr Innes went on to make the point that indigenous peoples generally do not consider themselves as “stakeholders” as the term can seem remote and not representative of how they view themselves in relation to the forest. A shift in how we approach community forestry and the actors involved is therefore needed.


Moving away from top-down approaches to rehabilitation when using traditional and local knowledge can result in greater benefits, both for the forests and the people who rely on them.


David Gritten from RECOFTC – the Center for People and Forests, also took a similar stance, highlighting that “community forestry shouldn’t be thought of as a charity; community forestry needs to be allowed to grow”. If there is clear return on investment for communities, then the investment is more likely to come. A key aspect is building communities’ capacity to become involved further up the value chain, moving from simply growing trees to felling, transportation and processing.


So the question is, how can this be done in an inclusive way?


Isabelita Austria, Chief of the Community Forestry Section, Forest Resources Management Division of the Forest Management Bureau of the Philippines, reiterated the message that helping communities organize is an effective way of facilitating development and change, stating that “if self-governance is possible, SFM can be achieved, but it is a long process”.


Land tenure plays an important role here, with longer use rights encouraging increased and more sustainable long-term planning of forests and forest products by local people.


Governance and a supportive legal environment are therefore key aspects of ensuring that community forestry is a success, as are adequate financing, land tenure that allows people to plan the use of their forest resources long-term and the inclusion of all people that use and rely on the forests.


An important point that was raised by several speakers and also participants in the Q&A session was that of gender and how the discourse surrounding community forestry and indeed forestry in general needs to shift to one that no longer disadvantages women. Adopting an inclusive approach where women are positively involved in forestry will bring new ideas, attitudes and improved practices, benefiting both people and forests.


However, repositioning gender requires a whole societal change and is not a quick fix. The take home message here is that community forestry can contribute to something bigger, but it’s not going to happen overnight and will require a step change in attitudes across the board. APFNet will continue to strive to represent all relevant actors in its activities as it enters its second decade.